IRVING (AP) — The moniker “MB3” served Marion Barber III pretty well for most of his life, at least through his rookie season with the Dallas Cowboys. Then Bill Parcells suggested Barber be known as “The Closer” because of his ability to end drives with touchdown runs.
Now teammate Terrell Owens has bestowed Barber with perhaps the most-fitting nickname: “Marion the Barbarian.”
Anyone who has seen him run, and certainly anyone who has tried tackling him, understands the reference.
The 6-foot, 221-pound Barber is what coaches call a downhill runner, someone who picks up steam as he chugs along. He lowers his shoulders and runs over defenders instead of going around them — unless he first shoves them out of the way with a stiff arm.
But Barber is at his best in tight spaces, when he needs to bash open his own holes. Like near the goal line.
Barber led the NFC with 14 rushing touchdowns last season. Nine came from 3 yards or less. Only one covered more than nine yards.
“He kind of challenges people and dares not to be stopped,” Owens said. “It’s sort of barbaric. That’s how I came up with the nickname.”
Barber is tied for the NFL lead with three TDs this season, and each has been memorable.
In the opener, Dallas was trailing 6-3 and facing fourth-and-1 from the New York Giants’ 18 when new coach Wade Phillips opted to go for it. The ball went to Barber and all he did was shake a defender at the line, bounce outside, shove away a second defender, then dive headfirst toward the end zone from around the 5. A third defender hit Barber, flipping him over the goal line for the go-ahead score.
This past Sunday, against Miami, Barber added two more: a typical 1-yarder burrowing through the line — another go-ahead TD, by the way — then a 40-yarder that was a career best by 12 yards.
Yet the play that sums up Barber’s style was his very first carry against the Dolphins. It was only a five-yard gain around the right end, but it ended with his helmet being ripped off by trash-talking linebacker Joey Porter, drawing a personal foul.
Earlier in the week, Porter had said, “Barber thinks he’s a tough guy sometimes. … That’s my type of fight, so I’m going to be looking for him.” If this opening salvo was meant as further intimidation, it didn’t work. Barber finished with 89 yards, his most in 26 games and the third-best of his career.
Asked this week if his opinion of Barber had changed, Porter said: “It doesn’t matter.”
Barber is no trash-talker. In fact, he’s not much of a talker at all, at least not to reporters.
He’s also not much of a complainer about splitting time with Julius Jones. Jones is the starter and Barber is, well, the closer.
Their combination is a classic blend of speed (Jones) and power (Barber). Jones gets more carries but Barber gets more out of his, averaging more yards per carry and, of course, piling up more TDs.
“It’s a team,” Jones said. “He’s doing a good job. He breaks tackles well and he’s productive. It’s a good combination. If I’m having a tough day, where defenses are sticking me like they were (in Miami) that’s when he breaks loose. I’m sure the same will go the other way. That’s the way it is.”
Fans have been wanting Barber to get the ball more since he was a rookie in 2005. Alas, this may be the one area where Phillips and Parcells agree the most: Why mess with a good thing? It’s also worth noting that Barber was at his best in college when he shared the load at Minnesota with Laurence Maroney, now the starter in New England.
“I see everybody’s point that Marion’s doing some great things for us and that’s what we hoped he’ll do but the other guy is doing some good things for us too,” Phillips said. “I think it’s working the way we’re doing it.”
Even with Jones off to a slow start, the Cowboys have scored 82 points, most in the NFL. Their 47 points from inside the opponents’ 20-yard line is more than 21 teams have scored overall.
That trend is likely to slow when Dallas goes to Chicago on Sunday night.
The Bears’ ferocious defense is based on stopping the run. They’ve already slowed LaDainian Tomlinson and Larry Johnson and now will be ready for Barber and Jones.
“I think the main thing is they’ve got fresh legs in there all the time,” Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher said. “Jones is the straight-ahead speed guy. Barber is more of the cutback, patient guy.”
Urlacher made no bring-it-on challenge, a la Porter.
He even seemed to take offense at the idea a Barbarian was headed his way.
“Is that what he is?” Urlacher said in a testy voice. “A smashmouth guy?”
He’ll find out soon enough.